The state Senate on Monday approved, by a vote of 21-16, legislation that would create a process for terminally ill patients with less than six months to live to seek medical assistance to end their lives.
Sponsored by Senator Nicholas Scutari, D-22nd District, Senator Richard Codey, D-27th District, and Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-3rd District, the bill, Senate Bill 1072/Assembly Bill 1504, also known as the “Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act,” would allow adults who have the capacity to make health care decisions and who have been determined by their physicians to be terminally ill to obtain medication that the patients may self-administer to terminate their lives.
“This is a humane and dignified process that respects the free will of terminally ill patients,” said Scutari. “We should permit qualified patients to make the decision to end their own lives in a dignified manner. There is no good reason for them to be forced to prolong their pain and suffering or to prolong the grief of their loved ones if they make that choice.”
In a statement, Gov. Phil Murphy said: “This measure is about dignity. Senator Scutari and Assemblyman Burzichelli should be commended for sponsoring this bill that will make us a more dignified and empathetic state. For Assemblyman Burzichelli, in particular, with whom I have met to discuss this issue, this bill has been a personal fight for years,” said Murphy adding; “Allowing terminally ill and dying residents the dignity to make end-of-life decisions according to their own consciences is the right thing to do. I look forward to signing this legislation into law.”
The bill contains numerous safeguards and procedures to ensure the integrity and safety of the process, including: a patient must have a prognosis of six months or less to live in order to request and be prescribed medication under the bill; the bill defines a “terminal disease” as an irreversible disease that has been medically confirmed and will result in a patient’s death within six months; it would cover: 1) an adult resident of New Jersey, 2) who is capable and has been determined by the patient’s attending physician and consulting physician to be suffering from a terminal disease, and 3) has voluntarily expressed a wish to die.
The bill would require patients suffering from a terminal disease to first verbally request a prescription from their attending physician, followed by a second verbal request at least 15 days later; the attending physician would have to offer the patient a chance to rescind the request. A consulting physician would then be called upon to certify the original diagnosis and reaffirm the patient is capable of making a decision.
It would also require one request in writing signed by two witnesses. A valid request for medication must be signed and dated by the patient and witnessed by at least two individuals who, in the patient’s presence, attest that the patient is capable and is acting voluntarily to sign the request.
The bill requires that the patient’s attending physician recommend that the patient participate in a consultation concerning additional treatment opportunities, palliative care, comfort care, hospice care and pain control options, and provide the patient with a referral to a health care professional qualified to discuss these options.
The attending physician would also be required to document the recommendation in the patient’s medical record, and indicate whether the patient chose to participate in the consultation and whether the patient is receiving palliative, comfort or hospice care.